Origins News Roundup for May 2, 2014
Have you thought much about your thinker lately? It can be a bit strange to ponder the complexities of the mind, the brain, and consciousness, but recently released movies like Transcendence and Her reflect a growing societal interest in the capabilities and ethics of neuroscience. What is the ethically correct way to use computer chips modeled after our own brains? Can the human consciousness survive outside of the human body?
Questions like this are worth mulling over in light of recent scientific developments, such as the research summarized in an article from The Guardian on “synaesthesia,” a neurological condition present in only about 4% of the population. Those with the condition tend to associate concepts such as colors, words, numbers and smells—the number eight may be associated with the smell of roses, for example. Scientists are interested in the benefits of teaching non-synaesthetes to think more like synaesthetes.
Next, The Washington Post reports on the progress of a brain chip experiment at The Ohio State University. A team of neurosurgeons, computer scientists, and researchers implanted a brain chip into a paralyzed man with the hopes of allowing him to regain thought control of his appendages. The success of the study will be determined over time. Similarly, “neuromorphic engineering” researchers at Stanford University have been developing “Neurogrid”—a system of circuit boards and microchips based on the structure and function of the human brain. The technology has the potential to lead to faster and more energy efficient computers, as well as thought control of prosthetic limbs for paralyzed people. Other developments in neuroscience include the launching of the BRAIN Initiative, which will release its long term scientific plan in June.
Finally, we recommend this 2013 TED Talk by engineer Mary Lou Jepson, and on a completely different (but fun) note, this slow motion video from Michigan State University shows a grasshopper mouse hunting a scorpion and, believe it or not, turning the venom from scorpion stings into painkillers.